December 12, 2010

Spicy Korean Tofu Soup (Soondobu Jigae)

{ apologies for making your mouth water }
It's cold and wet outside.

Perfect excuse for spicy tofu soup!  Not that I need an excuse.  This is my favorite dish.  It's called soondobu jigae in Korean.  I could eat this all year round and have been known to (even on sweltering hot summer days).  But this soup is particularly good when it's cold out - it hits the spot and immediately warms you up!  And my personal motto when it comes to tofu soup is "the redder, the better."  I love it extra, extra spicy! 

There is a Korean restaurant by the name of So Gong Dong in northern New Jersey infamously known for their tofu soup.  And for good reason.  It's amazing!  James and I have tried others, and they just don't compare.  There's something about the tofu itself, but we're certain they add some top-secret, special ingredient to its broth.

I was determined to find out what.

So I began my quest by researching recipes online in an attempt to replicate the flavor of So Gong Dong's soup, and nothing came close.  I could never get it right.  I had nearly given up on the idea of ever making homemade tofu soup again.

Until one day at the Korean market, I laid eyes on this:

The tofu broth seasoning.

{ the secret ingredient? }
It certainly couldn't hurt to try.  The package includes 3 packets of seasoning powder and seasoning oil and for only $3.49.  I will preface by saying that I tried following the instructions on the package but found the flavoring pretty weak.  So I had to improvise and try out a few different variations.  And I think I finally found one I like (recipe below).

I'm certain this seasoning mix is not So Gong's Dong top-secret ingredient, but if prepared properly, it's great arsenal for making a pretty decent homemade version.  I always keep some in my pantry for days like this.

There are many variations you can make to this recipe.  I love the seafood tofu soup at So Gong Dong, so in the past, I've added uncooked shrimp and clams (make sure to add these once the soup is boiling and cook until clams open and shrimp turns pink).   Or you can add any of these ingredients:  sliced pork, beef, kimchi, or enoki mushrooms. 
Spicy Korean Tofu Soup (Soondobu Jigae)

  • 1 package of 1lb soft tofu (I prefer soft over silken)
  • 1 package Pulmone Tofu Broth Seasoning
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 scallion, sliced in small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, uncooked
  • 1/2 tablespoon of beef or fish flavor soup stock ("dashida") - add more to taste*
  • 1/2 tablespoon Korean hot bean paste ("gochujang") - add more to taste*
  • 1/2 tablespoon crushed red hot pepper ("gochukaru") - add more to taste*
[*When I first started making Korean food, I asked my mother for measurements in her recipes and she always told me there are no measurements.  You just taste it and add more or less and decide what tastes good.  Of course, this was not very helpful to me at the time, but she was right.  So these are just guidelines; I always end up adding a little more of each).

  1. To prepare seasoning, mix 1 cup water, one package of Tofu Broth seasoning (powder and oil), and hot bean paste in a bowl.  Set aside.
  2. Cut up tofu into small cubes. 
  3. Place cubes in the seasoning mix and stir gently; be careful not to break up the tofu pieces (I find this step of soaking the tofu in the mix helps ensure the flavoring seeps in).  Set aside.
  4. In a pot, stir-fry the garlic and sesame oil over medium heat until lightly browned.
  5. Add the bowl of seasoned tofu to the pot, stir with the garlic, and cook over high heat for a few minutes; stir occasionally.   (This is another step I take to ensure better flavoring.  I find that if you add all the water right away, it loses some flavoring).
  6. Add 2 more cups of water and cook until boiling (if you prefer more soup, add more water).
  7. Add the beef or fish flavor soup stock and the crushed red hot pepper.  Add more of each to taste if necessary.
  8. Add uncooked egg to the soup and stir until cooked.
  9. Sprinkle with scallion and it's ready to serve. 
You can also make a non-spicy version of this soup, but really, what would be the fun in that?  :)

If you try this, I'd love to hear what you think and what modifications you would or did make.


  1. oooo yum! i'm guessing soondooboo jjigae will be on our menu sometime this week =) i've used this seasoning packet before too and it's definitely a good, quick option. a friend told me to chop up some old kimchee and fry it in olive oil before adding the water/stock. Sometimes i like to add small chopped zucchini and the chili oil at the end. i've also tried the recipe from scratch on and it's pretty easy. i think the key to her recipe is the fish sauce.

    1. I have to agree with you regarding the fish sauce on's soon dubu - I've made that recipe over 10 times now, and I've tried the broth at various steps in the cooking process. I tried it before adding the fish sauce, after adding one tablespoon, and then after adding the second tablespoon (as called for in her recipe). It definitely makes a difference.

  2. Ooh, I'll have to spend a little more time on the maangchi site. :) Thanks for the tip, YK. I personally don't like the fishy flavor, so that's why I use the beef stock flavor. But I revised the recipe so one can use either depending on their preference.

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